“We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.” (Romans 5:3)

The words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” were spoken by Henry Morgan Stanley on November 10, 1871 when he located missionary and physician David Livingstone following several years without anyone hearing from him. Born in Scotland in 1813, David Livingstone’s devout Christian parents encouraged their son to pursue whatever he desired as long as it was to the glory of God. At an early age, he had such a passion for souls that he gave his life to go to the untouched and unexplored areas of Africa to reach those that would otherwise not hear the Gospel. He fought lions, buried a child and eventually his wife, suffered tropical illnesses and endured the hardships of being a pioneer in a strange land for the sake of being able to win people to his Lord. Livingstone did not hide the painful experiences of “anxiety, sickness, suffering, and danger.” Most people would consider those sacrifices, but he faced the trials head on. Towards the end of his life, the great missionary returned to his native Scotland to be honored by his countrymen and the University of Glasgow in particular.  There was absolute silence as Livingstone told of his experiences in Africa, his left arm hanging limp at his side, the result of being mauled by a lion. Quoting the missionary-explorer, “But I return without misgivings and with great gladness. For would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude towards me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” Livingstone did return but eventually his frail body failed, and he died in April, 1873. His native co-laborers found him slumped over the cot where the previous night he had knelt to pray. His well-worn New Testament was open to the same passage he had quoted to the university audience – that of Matthew 28:20.

Livingstone remained committed to his cause for an entire lifetime but emphatically stated that he felt he had never sacrificed. He spoke the way Paul does in Philippians 3:8: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” The disciple Peter realized that Jesus called for radical sacrifice.  Jesus said, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33). In response to Jesus, “Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’” (Mark 10:28). Jesus quickly rebuked such boasting or self-pity, setting an example for Paul and Livingstone. He established that the sacrifice Peter and the others had made was not really a sacrifice at all. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property–along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). In the bright shadow of David Livingstone’s suffering, we are able to understand the point of Jesus’s words more readily — “Following me, you do not make a sacrifice.”

When missionary Dr. David Livingstone was working in Africa, a group of friends wrote him: “We would like to send other men to you. Have you found a good road into your area yet?” Dr. Livingstone sent this message in reply: “If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.” Lord knows that our culture lacks commitment these days, and it all stems from the fact that most of us are not willing to sacrifice.  It is evident in our work, our relationships with others and, in particular, our spiritual life. There’s a big difference between just being interested in doing something and actually making a commitment to doing it. Just being ‘interested’ allows one the freedom to do it only when circumstances of convenience or notoriety permit. However actually making a commitment means putting aside our fears and reservations, moving forward until we realize the end-result.  If along the way we need to make sacrifices, we will not see them as such because our focus is on that to which we have committed. Nothing else matters. That’s the kind of commitment the Lord expects from each one of us . . . and we’ll rejoice in the midst of any suffering.

REFLECTION: When you have made a commitment to a person or project, have you entered into the arrangement with an exit-strategy if one was needed? Through what type of arrangement would you be willing to endure suffering and consider it worth the cost? Does this apply to your relationship with God?




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